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An exploration of the multiple motivations for spending less time at work

  • Balderson, Ursula
  • Burchell, Brendan
  • Kamerāde, Daiga
  • Wang, Senhu
  • Coutts, Adam
Publication Date
Sep 08, 2020
Apollo - University of Cambridge Repository
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Funder: Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust / This article makes a significant empirical contribution to our understanding of why people in the United Kingdom without childcare responsibilities actively reduce or limit the amount of time they spend in paid employment. We show how the negative aspects of employment (push factors) and the desire to spend time in more varied and enjoyable ways (pull factors) interact to produce decisions to enact working time reductions (WTRs). The push factors include excessive workloads and difficult or tedious tasks which can result in stress and mental exhaustion. For people working non-standard schedules, their lack of control over hours can make it difficult to enjoy the free time that is available. The pull factors we have identified include traumatic experiences such as illness or the early death of a loved one which can lead to an increased awareness of the salience of time. Also important was the desire to develop skills and subjectivities unrelated to work-time identities. An overarching theme in the interviews was the idea that full-time work leads to a loss of autonomy, and a reduction in hours is a route to greater freedom. These motivations are contrasted with understandings of WTRs present in the empirical and predominantly quantitative literature which highlight the structural constraints that often force women in particular into part-time work as a result of childcare responsibilities. An exploration of the motivations of short-hour workers is pertinent, given increasing concern that long hours of work exacerbate multiple social, economic and environmental problems. We suggest that a deeper understanding of why individuals want to work less could help facilitate ‘priming’ campaigns aimed at increasing demand for WTRs more generally.

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